Abstinence: A Birth Control Method That Is 100% Effective?

My viral post, How I Lost Faith in the Pro-Life Movement, is still generating regular new comments. Just the other week I got this line, for instance:

The only birth control that’s 100% effective? Abstinence.

This is something I’ve run into a lot, and something I used to think myself. But it’s wrong—and on several levels.

First off, abstinence is not a birth control method. Let’s start with an analogy. Imagine if you asked your friend told your friend you were going to be doing some gardening outside in the next week and asked her what kind of sunscreen she recommended for avoiding sunburn, and she recommended that you just stay inside. Sure, staying inside would mean avoiding a sunburn, but that’s not the point. If you weren’t planning to go outside, you wouldn’t have asked for sunscreen recommendations because you wouldn’t need sunscreen.The question was what kind of sunscreen is best for avoiding a sunburn when going outside, and “staying inside” is not a sunscreen brand.

I could give lots of other analogies—for example, calling abstinence birth control is like calling bald a hair color—but you get the point. Birth control methods are ways of preventing pregnancy in sexually active women. If you’re not sexually active, you don’t need birth control, because you can’t get pregnant (except as a result of rape, of course). Look, if abstinence was a method of birth control it would be something that married women could use too. Yes, there’s NFP, which involves periodic abstinence, but that method actually involves being sexually active and is therefore not the same thing people mean when they promote abstinence-only sex education, call abstinence a method of birth control, or say “if you don’t want a baby, don’t have sex.” The simple reality is that abstinence is not something sexually active women use to avoid pregnancy. Instead, it’s about not being sexually active in the first place, and it’s therefore not birth control.

But let’s look at abstinence for a moment as though it were a birth control method. If we were to label abstinence as birth control, would it actually be “the only birth control method that’s 100% effective”?

The first thing to understand is that when measuring the effectiveness of various methods of birth control, researchers use two different rates: perfect use and typical use. Perfect use number shows the rate of effectiveness when the method is used perfectly (i.e., there are no missed pills, no condoms skipped in the heat of the moment, etc.). Typical use shows the rate of effectiveness as the methods are typically used, accounting for user error (i.e., missed pills, condoms skipped in the heat of the moment, etc.). As a result, if we want to actually examine abstinence used as a method of birth control (which again, it is not), we will need to look at its perfect use rate and typical use rate separately.

Perfect Use

For a woman using abstinence as a method of birth control, perfect use would mean not giving in to biological urges or social pressures and having sex; perfect use would mean always saying “no”—i.e., using abstinence correctly. But the perfect use rate for abstinence is actually not 100%. A woman could “use the method” perfectly, i.e. never consent to sex, and yet become pregnant as a result of rape. And remember that the majority of rape is committed by someone a woman knows, often an intimate partner or a date. In the case of rape, women’s ability to say “no” and remain abstinent is taken from them. Bearing this in mind when talking about the perfect use rate of abstinence is incredibly important, because a woman using abstinence to avoid pregnancy can do everything “right” and yet still end up pregnant due to circumstances outside of her control. I am going to sketch a quick outline of how the perfect use rate for abstinence could be determined, but I want to be clear that I’m using a lot of numbers that are estimates here. Please let me know if you have better numbers for any of this.

First we need to determine the number of women who are raped each year. We’re going to stick with the U.S. here (be aware that the perfect use failure rate of abstinence in, say, the Congo would be far far higher). Estimates of the number of women raped in the U.S. each year range from 64,080 to 300,000 to 683,000. What we are looking for here is specifically vaginal rape perpetrated against women of child bearing age. For the purpose of this experiment, I’m going to choose a number somewhat arbitrarily. We’re going to go with the middle number and say that 300,000 women raped each year, and we’re going say that that all of these are of child bearing age and all of these rapes are vaginal. There are roughly 70,000,000 women of child bearing age in the United States. If 300,000 of these 70,000,000 women of raped each year, each woman of child bearing age has a 0.43% chance of being raped in a given year.

Next we need to determine how many of these rapes will result in pregnancy. Remember that, for the sake of our calculations, each of these rapes is vaginal. Now, a woman who is raped generally has a 5% chance of getting pregnant from that rape, but that number is lower than the number we will use because many of those women are on the pill or use some other hormonal method of birth control, thus lowering their risk of pregnancy. A woman is generally capable of getting pregnant during a six day window each cycle, and the average cycle is 28 days. This would suggest that a woman not using birth control would have right about a 20% chance of getting pregnant from a given vaginal rape. However, this ignores the fact that women’s fertility varies, and that some women can try for months before getting pregnant. Plugging in both the 5% number and the 20% number and multiplying each by the 0.43% chance of being raped, we find that a given woman using abstinence as birth control will have something between a 0.02% and a 0.09% chance of becoming pregnant each year. I’m going to go with a number in between the two but closer to the higher number: 0.07%.

Based on this back-of-the-napkin outline, we find that the perfect use rate of abstinence is not 100% but rather 99.93%. This remains a very high number, of course. By way of comparison, the perfect use effectiveness rate for the condom is 98.0%; for the pill is 99.7%, for the Mirena IUD is 99.8%; and for the implant is 99.95%. This means that looking at perfect use rates, abstinence is among the most effective forms of birth control, but is not the most effective form, and doesn’t beat its nearest contenders by much.

The Typical Use Effectiveness Rate

Next we need to calculate the typical use rate for abstinence. A typical use rate is calculated by looking at what methods of birth control women say they are using and then looking at how many of them end up pregnant. Whenever a birth control method allows for a measure of human error, the typical use will differ from the perfect use. People miss pills, they skip condoms in the heat of the moment, they’re, well, human and therefore prone to human error. This makes the typical use rate extremely important. While a woman on the pill may have only a 0.7% chance of becoming pregnant in a given year if she uses the pill perfectly, because most women do not use it perfectly the average woman using the pill actually has a 9.0% chance of becoming pregnant in a given year. The condom has a similar gap between its perfect use and typical use rates. The IUD and the implant, in contrast, do not have any difference between perfect use and typical use because they are not subject to user error.

When it comes to abstinence, the typical use rate is going to be lower than the perfect use rate because of the large number of people who say they are using abstinence—even going so far as to take formal abstinence pledges—and then end up having sex anyway before marriage anyway. Those who promote abstinence as birth control like to ignore this by arguing that those people should not be counted because they are no longer abstinent. The problem with that is that we still count people who miss pills or skip condoms when calculating the typical use rates for the pill and the condom. We don’t just dump them because they weren’t using their chosen method correctly. Fortunately, I don’t have to do the math for the typical use rate of abstinence myself. Heather Corinna of Scarleteen has already done it (also, this additional article touches on it). Let me quote from Heather:

The people promoting abstinence clearly haven’t wanted to study effectiveness and failure of abstinence as a method of contraception so we can all know what the typical use rates are. They want to frame it as contraception, which is already problematic, because contraception is defined as things we actively do or use to prevent pregnancy, not as things we don’t do or avoid using: contraceptive reference books won’t show rates for abstinence because people not having sex don’t need contraception. But if you’re going to put it out there as a method of birth control, you have to also treat it like one when it comes to the kind of study we have for all other methods. Alas.

For all the promotion of abstinence, we still don’t have studied, published typical use rates for abstinence as a method: the rate that shows us, for every method of contraception, how frequently a method does and doesn’t result in pregnancy when used by people in daily life.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t get a good idea of what that rate is ourselves. This rate won’t be as sound as we could get with a specific study, but I think we can use plenty of data we have on abstinence, as well as on other methods and use of no method, to get a good idea of what typical use probably is.

. . .

Okay, then. Here’s sound and relevant data we can look at to help provide the answer to this burning question of typical use:

1) The typical (and perfect) use rate for using no method at all when having intercourse and/or other direct genital-to-genital contact between opposite-sexed and fertile people is 10 – 20%.(AHRP, FWHC, Contraceptive Technology)

2) The typical use rate for using natural family planning without another method as a backup, which includes abstaining from direct genital-to-genital contact and intercourse during fertile times as well as tracking fertility in at least one of several ways, is 75 – 80% (Merck, AHRP, FWHC, Contraceptive Technology).

. . .

5) Studies which have been done about those who pledge abstinence have found that those who pledge abstinence do not have intercourse at lower rates than those who do not pledge, nor do they have lower rates of pregnancy and STIs. Based on interviews with more than 20,000 young people who took virginity pledges, one study found that 88 percent of them broke their pledge and had sex before marriage (Brückner H, Bearman P. After the promise: the STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health 2005; Bearman PS, Brückner H. Promising the future: virginity pledges and first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology 2001). Bearman did also find that in his study, those who pledged often delayed vaginal intercourse, some for even as long as as 18 months. Now, for those who do NOT have any kind of sex which poses a pregnancy risk (important, as “sex” in this case doesn’t include anal intercourse) for one full year, abstinence would be 100% effective. However, that’s not typical according to studies as a whole.

A study by Janet Elise Rosenbaum, PhD, AM (Patient Teenagers? A Comparison of the Sexual Behavior of Virginity Pledgers and Matched Nonpledgers, PEDIATRICS Vol. 123 No. 1 January 2009)found that teens who pledge to abstain from sex have just as much sex as those who don’t, and that those who pledge not to have sex until marriage don’t wait longer to have sex than those who don’t make that pledge. Pledgers did not differ in lifetime sexual partners and age of first sex. Fewer pledgers than matched nonpledgers also used birth control and condoms in the past year and birth control at last sex. She also found that five years after the pledge, 82% of pledgers denied having ever pledged at all. Central to the information we’re looking for, on typical use in a year, “pledgers reported an average of 1.09 past-year vaginal sex partners, 0.11 fewer than nonpledgers.” In other words, on average, those who report using abstinence are not using abstinence perfectly each year.

Rosembaum’s study was fantastically done, by the way, with a far sounder and stricter methodology than the Bearman and Brückner studies. She even ensured, via 128 different factors, that her samples of those who pledged and those who didn’t had similar attitudes towards sexual activity to begin with.

Lastly, of the ten studies identified by the Heritage Foundation as providing proof that their respective programs reduced early sexual activity, nine of them failed to provide credible evidence that they delayed the initiation of sex or reduced the frequency of sex (“Do Abstinence-Only Programs Delay the Initiation of Sex Among Young People and Reduce Teen Pregnancy?,” Douglas Kirby, Ph.D, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy).

. . .

At first glance, the rates for natural family planning/periodic abstinence may look plausible as the typical use rate for abstinence. However, FAM/NFP is a method all by itself of which abstinence is only one part. Someone who was using abstinence as a sole method isn’t using NFP/FAM: if they’re not doing any kind of fertility awareness, they’re only using abstinence. If they are doing any kind of fertility awareness, they’re using NFP/FAM, not abstinence. Using NFP and FAM, includes, and is centered around calculating fertility in some way: either by the calendar method, or more efficiently, with daily tracking of cervical mucus and/or basal temperatures, then fertility predictions based on charting one or both over time. That’s not part of how abstinence is defined.

However, in that method there is a shared motivation to those using abstinence, which is the motivation to abstain from sex, even though it’s not a constant. I don’t think that typical use rate is irrelevant, because motivation isn’t irrelevant in typical use, and NFP rates do give us some information on abstinence: but it’s also only part of the picture.

Given the study we have on abstinence shows us the amount of sex and lifetime partners had appears to be no less than those who don’t report using abstinence as a method, we can presume that when it comes to figuring out the typical use rates, we’re not considering a group of people whose sex lives — when it comes to having sex, and to frequency of sex — are that different than we’d find when considering any other group. In other words, if someone who is using abstinence doesn’t use it perfectly, but typically, meaning they did not abstain from sex or the kinds of sex which have the potential to create a pregnancy, and we are ONLY considering abstinence as a sole method, not other methods they may use (which would then be about rates for combining methods), then they may be the same, practically speaking, as those who do not use any method at all.

It may be sound and accurate to state that the typical use rate for abstinence as a sole method is probably the same as the typical use rate for no method: 10-20%. However, I’m not willing to dismiss that intention of use, and motivation to use, is a factor in the use of any method, including abstinence. I also can’t dismiss that rates for NFP, while they involve a built-in backup method abstinence alone does not, do also take some abstinence into account. Using abstinence sometimes in a year, but not all the time or for the whole of a year, is consistent with the studies we have on abstinence, and what I hear from young people who have been using it as a method or taken a pledge.

My theory is that the typical use rate for abstinence is the average of the typical use rate for using no method at all, and the typical use rate for periodic abstinence, which lands us at a rate of 42.5-50%. I may be overly generous in that estimate, but I don’t think so. If you think I am, and want to play it as safe as possible, then you’ll want to consider it to be the 10-20% figure, instead. (I’d also be really interested in reading your own comments on this, and seeing your own theories.)

Even with that potentially generous estimate of 42.5 – 50%, abstinence has the lowest effectiveness rate in typical use of all methods. That’s important information for people considering any method to have, especially if this method is touted as being foolproof by someone who says condoms, with around an 85% typical use rate, are said to never or only infrequently be effective.

In order to have an exact number, let’s average 42.5% and 50%. This leaves us with 46.3% as the typical use rate for abstinence. This is a very very bad typical use rate. In fact, it’s a worse typical use failure rate than any other method of birth control out there. The typical use rate for the pill is 91%, and for the condom is 82%. The Mirena IUD and the implant have the same typical use rate as their perfect use rate—99.8% and 99.95%—because they are not subject to user error. Given that people who say they will be abstinent typically don’t, and that abstinence-only sex education does not prevent people from having premarital sex (at best it delays first intercourse a short period, but also makes people more likely to engage in risky sex when they do have intercourse), abstinence’s typical use rate puts it at the very bottom when it comes to effectiveness as a method of birth control.

Conclusion

Next time someone tells you that people should just use abstinence as a method of birth control, and that abstinence is actually the most effective method of birth control—100%!—you might want to point out that abstinence is not birth control, and then discuss the difference between perfect use and typical use in determining the effectiveness rates of birth control, and the importance of factoring in the chance of sex without consent. From my experience at least, this argument is seen in pro-life circles as a “gotcha” argument, and we really need to be pushing back by pulling back the curtain.

Even if a pro-lifer refuses to accept the point regarding the typical use rate of abstinence, explaining the difference between perfect and typical use rates will help combat misinformation. Generally, those promoting abstinence as birth control point to the typical use rate of things like the pill and the condom, ignoring the high typical use rates of the IUD and the implant and refusing to consider that their own method might require perfect use or incur disaster. Comparing perfect use abstinence with typical use of the pill and the condom is highly unfair and disingenuous.

Finally, if someone is so very concerned about the typical use rate of pills and condoms and so very enamored with the supposed effectiveness of abstinence, they really ought to be ready to at least send a nod in the direction of the IUD and the implant, which maintain their high effectiveness rate even in typical use and have the potential to drastically decrease the number of unplanned pregnancies. But then, when it comes down to it I suspect the “abstinence is the most effective method of birth control” people are actually more interested in preventing premarital sex than they are in helping women control when and whether to become pregnant.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • JasmynMoon

    This argument also assumes that all married women are fine with having children. I’m married. Not having sex isn’t likely. My husband and I aren’t interested in having children. That’s not a reason to resign ourselves to a sexless marriage. Even if we were to remain abstinent, it appears that we would still have a significant chance of pregnancy. I’ll go ahead and keep relying on my implant.

    • Guest

      Same here. Not only am I not interested in having children, pregnancy is dangerous for me. There is nothing magical about signing a marriage license that makes pregnancy un-dangerous for me. I’m still at high risk for stroke. I’m still dependent on FDA Category D medications that not only make my body a hostile environment for fetuses, they mean I’m already putting enough strain on my liver and kidney.

      Despite all those medical problems, I have not been able to find a doctor willing to sterilize me. Because basically, the idea that a woman’s worth is tied to being a mother is runs so deep in this culture that the financial liability for making me sterile should I later change my mind about wanting kids is greater than the financial liability should I die from pregnancy. My fertility is literally worth more than my life.

      • Olive Markus

        I am so incredibly sorry for your situation :(.

        I think you’ve made an incredible point here.

      • The_L1985

        “My fertility is literally worth more than my life.”

        Yeah, pretty much. When my brother wears grungy T-shirts and old jeans, nobody says anything. He’s just relaxing and hanging out.

        When I wear grungy T-shirts and old jeans, I’m treated as having low self-esteem just because I feel like dressing for myself rather than to suit other people’s notions of what makes me “prettiest.”

        However, both of us are subject to the rather odd idea that each of us MUST give our parents grandchildren. To the extent that when my brother revealed that an ex of his (with whom he’s still on good terms) had had to get a hysterectomy after developing uterine cancer, my parents were horrified. Not because this young woman had had to have an internal organ removed only a few years after losing both of her parents to cancer, but because my brother could have married an infertile woman.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        Ugh, that sucks! I hope your brothers ex has come through ok, and that SHE is ok with having to have that done to her, and therefore losing her opportunity to have children.

      • The_L1985

        From what little I know, she’s come to terms with it. Also, she’s fairly well-to-do, so she can at least afford to adopt children someday.

      • gimpi1

        Stories like this just remind me, “You can pick your friends, you can’t pick your family.” Because I’m pretty confident you and your brother wouldn’t have picked your parents.

      • CarysBirch

        Oh. My. God. That so sounds like my parents.

      • Olive Markus

        Once again, you describe my own experience perfectly.

        After spending time away from my mom, when I see her, I realize that she scrutinizes me constantly. She’s not trying to be mean, but she thinks I shouldn’t be allowed to be seen unless I’ve considered the poor souls looking at me. She is analyzing my skin, my clothes, my hair, hair color, condition, length, leg hairs, fingernails. As a matter of fact, my dad jumped on her case just a few days ago, because she told me my eyebrows really needed to be taken care of, like, NOW. He wanted to know exactly what was wrong with my eyebrows. She adheres very strongly to the rhetoric that I should strive to be as feminine and attractive as possible, because, well, I should be pleasing to men at all times? I don’t even know anymore.

        I have pretty severe BDD, boundary problems and self-esteem issues and this is definitely a clue as to why.
        To be fair, the scrutiny isn’t always negative. She has nice things to say, too. The problem is that it is still a 24/7 nitpick of my physical appearance. And my demeanor/language/tone/opinions, etc., because, well, femininity, I guess.
        As far as your parents and your brother’s ex: WOW.

      • The_L1985

        To be fair, they were also very sad about her parents. But I never would have made a comment to my brother about how Daddy expects children of his bloodline to carry on the family name right after a story like that.

      • Olive Markus

        I hear you. People are remarkably capable of being very compassionate and very self-serving in one fell swoop! Or at least clueless.

      • Christine

        My mother is fine with the idea she won’t be getting any grandchildren from me. I get the feeling sometimes she would have been happier childfree herself. But of course when she was young a woman had to marry and have kids, or she was weird. It’s less of an issue now, fortunately, but I still get people asking why I don’t give my mother a grandchild. It’s always fun seeing the expression when I say she’s fine about it.

      • The_L1985

        My parents are Boomers. My brother and I are Millennials. The generation gap is sometimes startling.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        I dislike all those doctors right along with you. This situation sucks.

      • gimpi1

        Where do you live, Guest? I had a similar situation, not as severe as yours, and was able to get a tubal-on-request in Seattle with no issues. I know some areas of the US and the world are much more controlling, but it’s worth asking your doctor to recommend a surgeon who values your life more than your potential progeny.

      • enuma

        Guest is actually me. I’m not sure why Disqus logged my comment as Guest. I live in the Midwest in one of those states that is always trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

        I’ve FINALLY got a doctor lined up to sterilize me after my IUD expires. (And just getting the IUD was an ordeal of its own, although now that national obstetrics organizations are endorsing them for teens and nulliparous adults, that at least is changing.)

      • Guest

        I was 37 and had one 13 year old child when Planned Parenthood told me I was too young to commit to not having anymore kids.

      • m. castleberry

        That is ridiculous!

      • jmb

        What is even more ridiculous is that the pro-life lobby has ALWAYS claimed that doctors and PP clinics hand out IUDs and tubals like lollipops! The fact that this is true exactly nowhere has never stopped RTL from claiming this right along with “The Pill is baby pesticide!” both of which i first heard in the 1970s.

      • Christine

        It’s also easier for them to claim lack of liability for you getting pregnant than for them to claim lack of liability for agreeing to sterilize you. It would be interesting to compare the ease with which childless individuals can get surgery for sterilization under different legal systems. (It’s not possible, because the cultural changes from country to country or with time would contaminate the results)

      • j.lup

        Guest: My heart aches for you. I don’t know how old you are or where you are (I’m assuming the U.S.), but it might be worthwhile to try find a ob/gyn who would be willing to perform hysterectomy. It’s not an ideal form of surgical sterilization, and it presents its own host of medical problems, but if it’s an option that would work for you, it’s worth pursuing (and if you find this decent ob/gyn who’d be willing to give you a hysterectomy, she’s probably the kind of doctor who would offer you tubal ligation instead).

    • Monala

      It also assumes that married women who already have or want children don’t want to space the timing of their pregnancies, or stop after a certain number.

    • Jolie

      Putting it in the slightly bigger picture, little rant about conservative logic.

      So, there are people who work full-time on minimum wage, but still depend on welfare/government assistance; usually parents of underage children.
      Conservatives believe the minimum wage their employers pay them should not be raised; in fact, minimum wage should be eliminated altogether because free market
      …on the other hand, their benefits should be significantly cut (with no obligation/expectation from employers to raise their wage instead!) because they shouldn’t have this many children if they can’t afford it…
      … however, they shouldn’t have access to free,easily available contraception and be appropriately informed about it, because invisible man living in the sky and they shouldn’t have sex if they don’t want children…

      So-like-in their world, only middle-class people have sex with their spouses? :P

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        Sounds about right. So disturbing!

      • Cynthia Reed

        It makes your head spin, but it’s true! Well said, Jolie.

  • picklefactory

    This “100% effective birth control” thing is just a slightly less condescending version of “hold an aspirin between your knees.”

    Abstinence pledges are worthless. Consciously using a real method of birth control and doing it wrong is one thing, but I can’t help but think a fairly large percentage of the teenagers that sign a pledge do it in order to placate their parents and have no ideological commitment to purity or abstinence as a concept.

    • Conuly

      Or worse, they DO, and then they feel terribly guilty about, you know, being human.

      • picklefactory

        Yeah. I agree that that is worse.

    • ako

      I can’t help but think a fairly large percentage of the teenagers that
      sign a pledge do it in order to placate their parents and have no
      ideological commitment to purity or abstinence as a concept.

      That, and many get presented with this kind of stuff while they’re young, less knowledgeable about sex, risk, and desire, and more intent on pleasing their parents. There are a great many people who might make entirely sincere virginity pledges at twelve and feel very differently when they’re seventeen.

      • Joykins

        or 23…

        Virginity pledges weren’t “in” yet when I was in high school. Even though I intended to abstain until marriage when I was 14-17, I would have shied away from a pledge. That’s too much like boxing yourself in.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Well, and also, it’s putting it out there in public, which, I submit, is not where that decision belongs.

        Virginity pledges weren’t a thing yet when I was in high school, either, or else they just weren’t a thing where I went to school, but I feel like my friends and I would have felt extremely weird about making any kind of public proclamation as to our sexual plans o_O

      • The_L1985

        I remember my cousin proudly announcing at age 12 that she knew she would never have sex before she got married. All I could think was, “I was that certain about abstinence when I hadn’t yet developed a sex drive, too. Yet I’m not married yet, and I’m definitely not a virgin.”

        Of course, I doubt she remembers that at all, or would believe me if I told her.

    • Trollface McGee

      We used to have people going around our cafeteria at lunch with abstinence pledges with “prizes.” I signed a few because I needed a pen so I could finish my homework before the next class.

    • enuma

      The kids in the abstinence pledge program in my high school were some of the most sexually active people in the school. They signed up for the program because: 1. It was an easy way to get out of class (lots of field trips to give presentations to middle schools) 2. it was something they could put on college applications and 3. signing the pledges was reassuring for their parents and led to decreased supervision, which ironically made it easier for them to have sex.

      • picklefactory

        2. it was something they could put on college applications

        Really, this is a thing? Applications to Bible College, I presume.

      • enuma

        I went to a Catholic high school, so lots of my classmates were applying to Catholic colleges.

      • picklefactory

        Wow. That is… tremendously creepy.

      • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

        I guess no one makes the connection that it is alot like the junior anti sex league in 1984.

      • Olive Markus

        Well, you have to admire them, in a way.

        My CCD teacher had three older daughters (a couple much younger ones) one of whom was my age. I went to school with one and had her in the CCD class with her father. He spent the entire year focusing on the evils of premarital sex, extramarital sex, etc. (and actually had a lot of very useful and pertinent information regarding hormones, health, etc.; luckily, he wasn’t creepy at all, but very genuine).

        All three of his older daughters ended up pregnant before they graduated. Every one. One of the many, many, many things that made me realize that church doesn’t do anybody any good…

    • Gail

      Abstinence pledges fail as soon as A) the kids decide that they really, really want to have sex and it’s worth pissing God off to do it or B) the kids grow up a bit, look outside the bubble, and realize that premarital sex isn’t wrong. In my case, it was B, but I knew plenty of kids in the A group and most of them resulted in teen pregnancies. The kids that likely kept their abstinence pledges got married very, very young.

      • Dawn

        “The kids that likely kept their abstinence pledges got married very, very young.”

        Which is PRECISELY what the “pro-breeders” want! Women are to be kept barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.

      • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

        “pro-specific-kinds-of-people*-breeders”

        *POCs and poor people need not apply.

      • CarysBirch

        Some of the most intensely quiverfull people I know live below the poverty line, and have for generations. Some that I know have the sort of generational wealth and stability that comes with owning land and stuff, but my ex’s family were poor — real poor, couldn’t buy their kids shoes poor. They’d raise their eyes at “the wrong sort of people” having “irresponsibly large families” but the “wrong sort of people” are ones who accept state aid instead of mooching off the church community, and also POCs (my mother says explicitly that white people need to have more babies to “outnumber them”. It’s really appalling).

      • Gail

        There were lots of working mothers at this church so it wasn’t always the barefoot and pregnant thing, but I think the ideal in this specific church community was to be white and middle class (what Aeryl said, basically), get married at 22, live in the suburbs, have three kids, send them to church preschool and VBS, etc. Having more than six kids or so seemed out of the ordinary, though, so there must have been some birth control going on. There definitely seemed to be an attitude of “only liberals move to the city, go to graduate school, have only children, etc.”

      • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com/ KevinKat

        B-Team here.

  • Hilary

    This is completely off topic, but too good not to share:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K16fG1sDagU

    The Mississippi Squirrel Revival.

    The day the squirrel went buzzerk
    In the First Self-Righteous Church
    In that sleepy little town of Pascagoula.
    It was a fight for survival
    That broke out in revival.
    They were jumpin’ pews and shoutin’ “Hallelujah!”

    And slightly on topic, there is one guaranteed way to enjoy sex without getting pregnant – do it with someone of the same sex!

    • The_L1985

      I’ve heard that song for years. :) My grandmother’s a huge Ray Stevens fan.

  • ako

    Yeah, the abstinence thing is total special pleading. If we’re counting “Forgot my pill that night” and “Got drunk and didn’t think to put a condom on” as typical use, we’re also counting “Got horny and didn’t stick to my virginity pledge”. And defining away rape victims is horribly dishonest. You can’t claim a perfect safety rate if you mean “Perfect, unless you do something wrong, or something bad happens to you that’s out of your control”.

    Plus, there’s something weirdly insulting in their approach to risk and safety. There are a lot of potentially risky things I enjoy, and I would be really pissed off if, for example, someone went “Don’t want decompression sickness? Never go scuba diving!” Or “Don’t want to die in a plane crash? Never get on a plane!” People have legitimate reasons to want to mitigate risk without giving something up entirely, and giving smug little “You shouldn’t be doing that at all” lectures disguised as safety advice is really obnoxious.

    • smrnda

      Very few people will demand that anything be 100% safe, but somehow sex is held to a different standard.

    • A

      Deliberately choosing to have sex is rather different to accidentally forgetting to take a pill, though. Human beings are not animals in thrall to our urges: it is entirely possible to simply decide not to have sex.

      (Rape victims, indeed, are not considered; but on the other hand, do you really suggest that people not otherwise sexually active take the pill just in case they are raped? That seems very pessimistic.)

      • PNW

        I am a sexually inactive woman. One of the reasons I take birth control is to have shorter periods. The other reason is because I am trying to get into the military and if I get raped I have a good chance of not getting pregnant. That doesn’t prove other people take birth control for that reason but there is at least 1.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I had occasion to discuss this with my fifteen-year-old recently. I found one brochure online (which is by the same organization we use here in our public schools) which used the old line about abstinence being the only perfect form of birth control. The brochure skewed the numbers blatantly by showing “typical use” for every other form of birth control (and they were outrageously low numbers, too, which did not reflect the numbers I found elsewhere on the web), but 100% effectiveness for abstinence– obviously “perfect use.” I showed the brochure to my daughter and asked her to find the misleading figures, and when she couldn’t, I pointed out the problem to her. As my husband used to say, “Statistics lie, and liars use statistics.”

    • The_L1985

      I know those brochures. I probably read most of them in high school. Indeed, in 2001, I was given a brochure that used, as a reason why some teens might want to have sex, “After all, it’s the 80′s!” Um.

  • sylvia_rachel

    It’s not only abstinence-only programs that tell kids “abstinence is the only 100% effective method {of birth control / of preventing STIs}”; I remember hearing that from at least one Health teacher at some point (this would be sometime between Grade 4, when we first started learning about puberty and reproductive anatomy, and grade 11, when Health class stopped being mandatory, so roughly 1983-1990). HOWEVER, we also learned, sometimes in exhaustive detail, about birth-control pills, diaphragms, cervical caps, condoms, “STD” testing, how various STIs (including, later on, HIV/AIDS) are and aren’t transmitted, how to talk to your partner about protection before you start having sex, and the fact that if you go to your family doctor and ask for a prescription for BCP, they are not allowed to tell your parents on you just because you’re still in high school.*

    Overall, I would say that the sex education my peers and I got sometimes included a strong message that it’s better not to have sex until {you’re married / you’re older / just not right now, guys, please?}, but always included a pragmatic recognition that some significant proportion of us were going to do it anyway and if we didn’t take appropriate precautions, it damned well wasn’t going to be because we hadn’t learned about them in school.

    I had not previously thought all the way through how problematic the concept of “abstinence is 100% effective” is, even outside the abstinence-only program. It does seem intuitively accurate to say that if you abstain from sex,** you won’t get pregnant and won’t get an STI. But then, of course, what if you don’t?

    *That is, they weren’t in Alberta in the 1990s. YMMV.
    **For purposes of STI prevention, I am including oral and anal sex, because when I was a teenager we definitely understood these as “having sex.”

    • Jayn

      FWIW, Nova Scotia in the late 90s was about the same in terms of sex ed–abstinence is the best way of avoiding pregnancy and STIs, a lot of focusing on waiting (not necessarily until marriage, though), but here’s the things you need to know once you do become sexually active.

    • Jonathan Roth

      Yeah, that was my experience in Alberta around the same time. Looking back, I definitely notice the religious conservatism that helped push that compromise.

      The best sex Ed I ever got was Dr. Sue Johanson giving a guest lecture at NAIT, and that got hijacked by a religious protestor claiming she was a shill for the condom companies. =P

      • Gillianren

        It was my experience in California at the same time.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Oh, remember the big public debate about *gasp* installing condom vending machines in high school washrooms? (Or was that just in Calgary?)

        I should have mentioned, but forgot, that there were always forms for parents to sign in order for us to participate in sex ed at all, and I even knew a few people whose parents wouldn’t sign them, and who therefore had to go sit in the library during Health class. It was always the Baptist and Lutheran and Mormon kids, not the Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or nothing-in-particular kids.

        I never saw Sue Johanson in person, but Talking Sex with Sue was an incredibly helpful source of sex education for me well into my 20s …

      • Christine

        How did they manage to get sex ed to become an opt-in thing, rather than an opt-out one? I know that Alberta is super-conservative, but it’s such a tiny difference from a propaganda point of view, and such a huge one from an effectiveness point of view, that you’d expect opt-out to have won the day.

      • sylvia_rachel

        Honestly, I have no idea. I’m a faculty brat, and my parents’ friends and most of my friends’ parents, at least until high school, were pretty liberal, not too religious, and largely not from around there; it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I even started to realize that my social circle in Calgary was actually WAY more liberal than the provincial average, and it took moving to Toronto (and several of my HS friends also moving to Ontario and coming out) to really make me go “OMG, it’s way worse than I thought it was when I lived there”.

        One thing that may have been a factor is that in Alberta, as far as I understand, faith-based schools can get provincial funding provided that they teach the provincial curriculum and meet certain other accreditation requirements, which may have meant that the student populations of urban public schools were less likely to be religiously conservative. But that’s just total speculation on my part, because as I said I honestly have no clue.

      • Jonathan Roth

        Yes to both. I don’t remember anyone being pulled out, but this was in an upper-middle class neighbourhood in Edmonton.

    • Conuly

      Oh yes. One of the side effects of abstinence only education is that many kids are having unprotected oral or anal sex, justifying it as “not really sex because you can’t get pregnant”, and… Yeah.

      • Rosa

        and of course, there is an overlap between this population and the not-vaccinated-for-HPV population, and HPV is also spread by all these not-actually-sex kinds of sex.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

      I have no problem with sex education that suggests that abstinence is a good start, but here is how to protect yourself if you decide to have sex. I actually think thats a really healthy way to teach it, so long as you are also taught about consent etc.
      Its what I got at high school here. Especially relevant in the later years was the reminder that just because it seems like everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean everyone is…

    • KristinMuH

      Ontario Catholic school in the early-mid 90s: Birth control is unsafe and ineffective and if you have an abortion you’ll die.

      Yet hardly any families had more than 2 or 3 kids – there were a few families of 7-8 in my high school, and that was looked on as really unusual. Why did our parents, who were all CLEARLY using birth control, let them teach us this crap? Evangelical parents who had sex before marriage/use birth control must know how unrealistic and dehumanizing abstinence/purity culture is. Why do they impose it on their children?

      • The_L1985

        “Why did our parents, who were all CLEARLY using birth control, let them teach us this crap?”

        The ones who didn’t grow up Catholic may not even know that this is Catholic teaching. Ditto “cradle Catholics” who grew up before this became Catholic teaching. (It isn’t exactly well-publicized outside of youth-centered stuff like schools, CCD/PSR, etc.)

        And of course, the ones who didgrow up with it are likely to assume that you’re going to ignore it just like they did (which isn’t always a safe assumption).

    • Nancy Shrew

      I was a high school freshman in early 2000s Oregon and our sex-ed was basically: “The only 100% prevention against pregnancy and STDs is abstinence, but since you guys are probably all going to fuck anyway, here’s how to use a condom.”

  • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com/ Marian

    I think this whole idea between “perfect use” and “typical use” would also be helpful in combating parents who don’t want their kids to get the HPV vaccine. I took a special topics class on human sexuality at my evangelical college, and when the HPV vaccine came up as a topic the professor said she discussed it with her daughter’s doctor and said “if my daughter remains a virgin until marriage and marries a virgin, then she wouldn’t need it, right?” And the doctor agreed that in that scenario the vaccine would be unnecessary. And therefore the professor didn’t let her daughter get it. Even at the time I was like, but there are WAY too many what-ifs in that statement. Even if she’s committed to abstinence now, at 14, what if she changes her mind? What if she stays a virgin but doesn’t marry a virgin? What if she’s (God forbid) raped? What if she stays a virgin and marries a virgin but is later widowed and THEN marries someone who’s not virginal?

    You better believe my daughter will get the vaccine when she’s old enough. Lately, I’ve even been considering getting the vaccine for myself, even though I was already a virgin who married a virgin when the vaccine was first made available. There are just too many what-ifs in life, why not prevent something that’s totally preventable? I just have to weigh the fact that for me it IS extremely unlikely against the fact that I’d have to pay for it and the fact that I’m fearful of needles.

    • MyOwnPerson

      Yeah, and the number one problem with this argument, who in heck thinks that cancer is a fitting punishment for sex?!?! I don’t understand parents who won’t vaccinate their girls. Also, what teenager in history has ever thought, “I’d like to have sex, but I won’t because of the risk of cancer.”

      • Jayn

        Not to mention that the whole point of vaccines is to get them before being exposed to the virus itself. Mom can’t know when her daughter is going to become sexually active, or under what circumstances, so why not get the vaccine while she’s young enough that she’s unlikely to have had sex?

      • The_L1985

        “who in heck thinks that cancer is a fitting punishment for sex?!?!”

        Judging by the number of people who insist that we don’t need to research a cure for AIDS because of how it’s spread…well.

      • Christine

        They think that it’s a fitting punishment for assuming that hospitals are being careful enough?

      • The_L1985

        HIV transmission through transfusion is extremely rare nowadays, and is no longer listed as a transmission risk on the CDC website. If you didn’t get it at birth, or in breast milk when you were a baby–well, you’re not going to get it that way once you’re old enough to be taught things. However, it’s still very possible to get HIV from sex with a man* (or from sex with a woman, if you’re male) or needle-sharing. This makes it extremely unlikely that abstinent, drug-free people are going to get HIV in most developed countries, so a LOT of fundie-type churches imply, if they don’t state outright**, that AIDS is God’s punishment for you committing certain sins. (And yes, I definitely picked up on that. My mom was furious when she saw where I’d idly scrawled in a notebook, “AIDS is caused by sinful behavior.” She had to tell me about the whole blood-transfusion thing, because my school had conveniently neglected to tell us that part.)

        Never mind the people suffering from the AIDS pandemic in Africa, or the people who died from blood transfusions in the 70′s and 80′s before doctors realized what’s going on. After all, the facts get in the way of moralizing!

        * Apologies to transgender folks for the assumption of cis–it’s just SO much easier to type out this way)

        ** WBC is an outlier, to be sure, but I don’t think they’re the only ones doing this.

      • Christine

        I was actually thinking more of the occasional scare where it turns out that an autoclave was malfunctioning/being used improperly for a significant amount of time, and everyone who had certain procedures at such and such a hospital between these dates should come & get tested for a whole host of stuff. We never had a big issue with HIV transmission through blood transfusion up here (we had a huge incident with Hepatitis in the eighties, and I believe a new body got responsibility for blood, and the screening questionnaire is conservative past reason now).

    • Gillianren

      Our son will get the vaccine as soon as they’ll give it to him. Because herd immunity isn’t just for girls.

      • MyOwnPerson

        Amen.

      • Niemand

        Not to mention that there are HPV associated cancers that boys can get.

      • Gillianren

        Yup, that, too. But even if it only provided immunity from cervical cancer, and even if I knew this minute that my son were gay (he doesn’t have enough awareness of the world yet, and he certainly can’t express anything other than “hungry,” “tired,” and “change me”), I’d still get him the vaccine as soon as they’d give it to him.

      • Things1to3

        I have sons and my mother was appalled when I mentioned needing to find out when/where to get HPV vaccines for them.
        She told me that they didn’t need it because they were going to grow up
        abstinent and never have sex with anyone but their future virgin wives. I almost told her that it would be good to have had if one of my boys came out as gay, but I didn’t want to get into that argument at the time.

      • Niemand

        I almost told her that it would be good to have had if one of my boys came out as gay,

        In my fantasy about how that conversation would have gone she would have come back with “Then they’ll be abstinent until they marry their equally virginal husbands.”

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        Ours too.

      • onamission5

        Ditto, and I am going to have to specifically ask for it and probably have to pay for it special, because the health center doesn’t offer it to pre teens who present as boys as part of their free school vaccinations like they do for pre teens who present as girls.

      • Michael W Busch

        I had thought that was to have been changed when the CDC updated its vaccine recommendations.

      • onamission5

        The last time we went in was a year ago, and they specifically told me it was for girls. Have the recommendations been updated between now and then?

      • Michael W Busch

        Current guidelines are for the HPV vaccine to be given to everyone starting at age 11 and by age 12 – with the catch-up programs going into the early-to-mid 20s ( http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html ). It’s been that way for the last couple of years. But perhaps some places haven’t gotten the message.

      • AlisonCummins

        In the case of the HPV vaccine I think they are much less concerned about whether an individual wears makeup and long hair than about whether they have cervices.

      • onamission5

        I don’t know what the point is that you’re trying to make. My point is that you can’t tell if someone has a cervix just by looking at them, and the HPV vaccine is just as important for non-cervix havers as it is for those with, even just due to transmission factors alone. Herd immunity: it’s for everyone!

      • AlisonCummins

        Ok, so you’re saying that students don’t need any ID to register for school? Or that ID — for instance, a birth certificate — doesn’t contain a statement of sex (meaning genitals)? Or maybe that anyone can just walk into the student health centre, announce that they are a student and that they are a girl and get a free vaccine and nobody’s going to check to see if they are in fact a student? Isn’t there a medical exam required as part of signing up for school? If students with penises present as female, isn’t there some discussion with the school administration so that they don’t have to worry about getting into trouble in the girls’ locker room?

        My point is simply that a pre-teen getting a free vaccine is unlikely to be getting it in circumstances where the presence of a cervix can only be inferred from hair length.

        Unless the schools you attended are very, very different from the ones I attended.

        You and I might believe in herd immunity, but you have just said that your school only dispenses free vaccines to their girl students. You believe that the school health centre defines “girls” as “having a feminine gender presentation,” whereas I suspect the school of having documentation to allow them to define “girls,” at least for the purposes of HPV vaccination, as “having female external genitalia and almost certainly a cervix.” But maybe I’m wrong, or maybe the school nurse just doesn’t care one way or the other as long as kids are getting vaccinated.

      • onamission5

        “you have just said that your school only dispenses free vaccines to their girl students”

        I said no such thing. I said the community health center has free vaccinations for students. That is for the county, not the school, and they do not have access to either school or medical records. I said that the health center only offered the HPV vaccine to those they believe to be girls.

        Defining who is and isn’t a girl by whether or not they have a cervix is problematic. Defining gender by genitals is problematic. I don’t know why saying so bothers you so much.

      • onamission5

        Also, the main reason that I said my kids present as the genders they do is because that’s how they currently identify but I have no way at the moment of knowing how their gender identity will develop, and I am trying to be aware of that. It wasn’t a sideways accusation toward the staff at the health center but a statement of awareness that just because one kid presents as a certain gender right now doesn’t mean that will stay the same.

      • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com/ Marian

        Oh, I wasn’t trying to say boys shouldn’t get it. I just only have one child, a daughter, for now. If I ever have sons, they’ll be getting it too of course.

      • Michael W Busch

        It’s currently approved to be made available to everyone at age 11, recommended to be given by age 12, and there is catch-up program for anyone who wasn’t vaccinated and is likely to not have gotten those HPV strains yet ( http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html ). I personally was right near the catch-up cut-off when the recommendations were changed to their current values a few years ago, so I got it.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      So many people are ignorant of herd immunity and how vaccines work. They are so offended that the doctor is offering their precious little girl a vaccine for an STD that they refuse it. “Well, when my little girl wants to start having sex, then we will get the vaccine.” *headdesk* I try to explain to them that it’s not about your daughter having sex early, it’s about making sure that she’s vaccinated before any sexual contact and that age happens to be quite young. They don’t get it. The kicker? Most of them have had sex as early teens!

      • The_L1985

        The reason I didn’t get it was because the age range at which you’re supposed to get the vaccine also has an upper bound that’s rather young, and I was within a year of that upper bound when the vaccine was developed. I’m still not sure if it would do me any good at this point.

      • Rosa

        you can get tested for HPV and then decide, too.

      • The_L1985

        Even if you’re definitely no longer in the recommended age range?

      • Rosa

        Yeah, I have a friend who did it – she had to pay out of pocket but she really hates pap smears so she felt like it was worth it.

        They can test for individual strains of HPV, but usually don’t because it’s expensive. The vaccine is for specific strains, not all forms of HPV, so even if you have exposure to *some* HPV strains it might be worth it. The recommendations are cost/risk/benefit at a population level and your specific situation may be different – just because most of us have been exposed to HPV by a certain age doesn’t mean you have been (i guess just like most of us have sex when we don’t want babies doesn’t mean abstinent people don’t exist.)

      • lucifermourning

        i believe the upper bound is based purely on the assumption that you will probably have had sex.

        if you’re a virgin, it’s just as good at 50 as at 12.

        (likewise if you’re unlikely to have contracted HPV, e.g. have only previously had sex with another virgin, etc).

        it’s always helpful, it’s just that if you’re sexually active the probability of you already having got HPV becomes high enough that it’s not worth a wide-spread campaign of vaccinating people in that group.

      • victoria

        The big practical implication of the age limit (in the US at least) is that most insurance won’t cover Gardasil if you’re outside the age range for which the FDA approved the vaccine, and it’s pretty expensive — $120 a dose for three doses — if you’re paying out-of-pocket.

      • lucifermourning

        fair – still worth speaking to your doctor, at least to check details.

        i don’t know the rules in the UK, as i’m past the age limit and have sufficient sexual history that the benefit is minimal for me. but any kids i have will certainly get it.

      • Niemand

        As far as I know, I’m HPV negative and have asked about getting the vaccine. As far as I can tell, the upper age limit is based on the following:
        1. We don’t know if people over the age limit still respond to the vaccine the way younger people do.
        2. There’s a limited supply and more social value to vaccinating young people.
        3. Someone who is uninfected at 45 is so low risk as to be not worth vaccinating.

        I was rather offended at that last assumption. Who’s to say I won’t start having orgies when I’m 80?

      • Michael W Busch

        While HPV infections are primarily spread by sex, that isn’t the only vector. So after a certain point, even someone who hasn’t been sexually active is statistically likely to have been exposed (remember that the majority of infections are largely asymptomatic). Hence the cost-benefit trade on who gets provided the vaccine for free. Paying out-of-pocket is always an option, although less than ideal.

    • The_L1985

      If I were the doctor, I’d respond “Yes, but do you honestly think that your daughter is immune to being human?”

      • Winona

        A zillion years ago when I was a teen going on Accutane, the doctor mentioned birth control pills as it can cause severe birth defects. My mother said, “She won’t be needing that.” I was a virgin and not planning on being sexually active anytime soon, but the doctor and I barely managed to not roll our eyes at each other.

    • Gail

      I thought I’d share my story here. The HPV vaccine came out (or at least became widely marketed) when I was in my late teens. My mother didn’t really seem aware of it. I mentioned it to her once and she said, “Isn’t that for STDs?” in a way that meant I clearly didn’t need it. I wanted to get it when I went off to college, but I was still on my mother’s insurance and was afraid she would find out. Eventually I was on my own insurance, but I had just moved to a new city and was severely depressed with suicidal ideation, so the HPV vaccine wasn’t really a priority. When I went to the doctor for depression, she basically said, “Yeah, moving is hard,” and then proceeded to be very, very concerned that I hadn’t had the HPV vaccine or a tetanus booster. I was suicidal, but she was much more concerned about the HPV vaccine (I think it’s important, but it was clearly not a priority that specific day). I still haven’t had it, and I might be past the age maximum now. I’ll have to check.

      • lucifermourning

        maximum is just a recommendation, you can always get it, and the less sexually experienced you are, the higher the chance of it being beneficial.

  • John Kruger

    By the same line of reasoning, one could claim a number of obviously wrong things. Seat belts are never needed as long as you never get into an accident. All diets are 100% effective. Not breaking the law is 100% effective in preventing crime. All drug rehabilitation programs are 100% effective. If you just cherry pick away the failures, you are only talking in circles.

    Stats on teenage pregnancies and abortions in abstinence only sex education areas vs. comprehensive sex education areas are more than enough to show the “abstinence only plan” is just not effective at all.

  • Ahab

    The argument about abstinence being 100% effective completely ignores sexual violence. People who make that argument don’t seem to realize that a person can be forced into sex against their will. If we want to prevent unwanted pregnancies, we need to teach people about contraception AND combat violence against women.

    • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

      It may be against their will, but is in accordance with God’s will, so that makes it okay.

      They aren’t ignoring, they don’t care. If you are abstinent, are raped, and conceive, God WANTED you to have that baby.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        Ugh, it is so horrendous to think that people believe that.

  • Guest

    First off, I absolutely agree with your points about abstinence being a horrendous method of “birth control” (in scare quotes because you’re right, it’s not really birth control).
    That being said, I may be totally wrong here, but I wonder if you might have fudged the meaning of “perfect use” a bit. I guess it depends on how you define that term, but I would assume it would be defined as _both_ partners engaging in the perfect use, not just one side. In the case of rape, one of the participants is obviously not engaging in the perfect use. It seems to me that an analogy in other methods would be the man telling the woman that he had a condom on when he actually did not, or the woman telling the man that she was on the pill or had an IUD when she actually did not. I don’t think you could really class either of those situations as perfect use, and I’m not sure if you can include rape under perfect use statistics for abstinence.
    Again, though, I think your overall point is absolutely spot-on.

    • Jayn

      I tend to be a little leery of using rape for this argument anyways, after a commenter of RHRC (who was ALWAYS shilling for Implanon) used similar logic as a way of pushing his agenda. It just struck me as telling women to pre-emptively act like victims. While pregnancy from rape is always a possibility for some women, the idea that I should use THAT as a reason to use hormonal BC really rubbed me the wrong way.

      I wish there was a way to get a ‘typical use rate’ for abstinence, but I’m not sure that’s realistically possible–abstinence is kind of defined by perfect use. Where do you draw the line between ‘imperfect’ use of abstinence and ‘sexually active’?

    • Christine

      I’m also in agreement with the general point, but the numbers for condoms, the pill (and the shots if they had been included) need to be adjusted for rape as well. Condoms are obvious, and for the pill it’s obviously going to be a lower adjustment, but if the pill is being taken just for birth control purposes, then if you’re not sexually active at the time, (and your cycle is regular enough that you’re only taking the pill for birth control, not the side effects), you’re not going to want to have to keep taking it unless there’s a chance you’d be having sex in the next couple of months. Same for the shots.

      • Rosa

        I thought typical use rates were just that: take a number of people saying they are using that form of birth control, count how many get pregnant (from all occurrences, including rape.) Is it possible to find out if some pregnancies are discluded from the results because of rape?

      • Christine

        You make a good point. That’s only going to apply to barrier methods though, not short-term hormonal ones. (No, I don’t think that’s why the “typical use” is so much worse for barrier methods than for hormonal ones)

      • Rosa

        yeah, I would expect the actual typical use/failure rate of people who seriously intend to practice abstinence would mirror condom failure rate – barriers & abstinence both require 2-party cooperation and are decisions you have to hold to in the heat of the moment, while hormonal methods are generally a decision one person makes and can’t take back once they’re already naked.

      • Christine

        I’ve never seen good numbers for periodic abstinence (all the good ones I’ve seen lump the rhythm method in with everything else), but the numbers I was shown for thermo-symptomatic are actually very similar to condom usage – high ninties for perfect use, but drops to the mid-to-low eighties for typical use (I don’t know if the American study was more rigorous, or if the lack of science & sexual education in the US is a factor, but it was a significantly lower effectiveness rate than the studies in the other countries).

  • schwa

    First off, I absolutely agree with your points about abstinence being a horrendous method of “birth control” (in scare quotes because you’re right, it’s not really birth control).
    That being said, I may be totally wrong here, but I wonder if you might have fudged the meaning of “perfect use” a bit. I guess it depends on how you define that term, but I would assume it would be defined as _both_ partners engaging in the perfect use, not just one side. In the case of rape, one of the participants is obviously not engaging in the perfect use. It seems to me that an analogy in other methods would be the man telling the woman that he had a condom on when he actually did not, or the woman telling the man that she was on the pill or had an IUD when she actually did not. I don’t think you could really class either of those situations as perfect use, and I’m not sure if you can include rape under perfect use statistics for abstinence.
    Again, though, I think your overall point is absolutely spot-on.

  • Trollface McGee

    I’d buy the abstinence argument more if abstinence proponents weren’t actively undermining the any potential that it has. Masturbation is almost never discussed or is presented as something bad and shameful in abstinence programs, even though that’s pretty much the one thing that could help younger teens remain abstinent until they are ready to have sex with a partner.
    Also, it’s nearly always “abstinence until marriage” not “abstinence until you are ready for sex.” Even ignoring people who can’t or don’t want to marry, most people will first have sex in their teens and marry in their 20s or 30s (and marrying too young or marrying to have sex correlates with higher rates of divorce so that’s not so good either).
    It’s almost like they want kids to fail so they can be sanctimonious and tell them that they should have just “shut their legs” and “accept responsibility” when they are the ones that presented them with impossible standards that normal people won’t and shouldn’t have to live up to.

    • Gail

      During our abstinence program at a Southern Baptist church, we were taught that masturbation was wrong because of the lustful thoughts you had while you did it.

      • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

        How interesting. Its not the physical act, its what you might be thinking that is the problem.

      • Mogg

        Yes. I knew of one guy who had trained himself to think of nice landscapes and puppies and stuff when he masturbated so that he wasn’t thinking of actual or imaginary people. Really.

      • CarysBirch

        Yes, this is exactly what I was taught. It wasn’t so much that masturbation/the physical stimulation was an issue, because you were alone, it was that you were having thoughts about someone while you did it. Whether that was someone you knew or someone famous or even someone imaginary, it was damaging to your *emotional purity* to fantasize. What’s more, I was taught that not only did it damage me, it hurt my future spouse AND the person who I was fantasizing about! Because I was defiling them in my mind without their consent or something.

        (probably the only time I heard about consent, actually.)

      • LizBert

        Probably because of this type of teaching I am incapable of sexually fantasizing about real people. Even now I feel deep shame about it, like I am hurting them.

      • CarysBirch

        I remember a particularly intense fantasy I had as a teen. I was SO remorseful that I *apologized* to the subject, feeling that it was my duty to confess. I then publically castigated myself for it for several *years* before I realized what a completely ridiculous thing it was to do.

      • pennyroyal

        you might stop loving god so much and realize your body was yours not his….

    • J-Rex

      I was always taught that masturbation was like adding fuel to the flame and that if anything, it would make us more likely to have sex before marriage.

    • Guexst

      This seems like a feature of the Christian religion. You set ridiculously high standards like ‘you must never tell a lie’ ‘you must never feel lust’ ‘you must never get angry’ and then when people inevitably fail, tell them they’re worthless sinners unworthy to lick God’s anus and watch the money pour onto your collection plate.

      • Mishellie

        I legitimately had a person say to me “I piss on gods face every day and he hasn’t killed me yet, so what right would I have to destroy a child that was inconvenient for me” (he was referring to my suggestion that he may be ok with an abortion if his wife were pregnant because of rape.) … The way he phrased it just seemed so ODD to me, not very far off from the unworthy to lick gods anus idea

      • smrnda

        This made me think of the thing kids sometimes say ‘if god is everywhere, is he in the toilet?’

      • The_L1985

        I commented once while in a chair: “If God is everywhere, that means he’s sitting on me!” My mom just looked calmly at me and said, “And you’re sitting on him, too.” I stopped thinking very much about it after that–otherwise I’d have gone neurotic just from the mental image of constantly standing, sitting, dropping things, or lying down on God, with nary a divine complaint.

      • pennyroyal

        the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung had a dream as a young child that he was in church/temple and God shat (shit) on the glass roof destroying it. It’s in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. He saw early the dark side of religions.

    • Rootboy

      I went to Catholic school where it was definitely about the physical act. Probably also what you were thinking about, but it was mostly about drilling “the only acceptable ejaculation is in your future wife’s vagina” into us really hard.

  • smrnda

    You make a solid point that abstinence is not birth control. Avoiding dangerous situations is not a complete method of self-defense, making sure a fire never starts in a building is not an emergency plan. Something isn’t birth control unless it assumes that people are sexually active.

    On typical use – a plan is no good if nobody follows it.

  • littlepanchuk

    So, if you are 100% effective in your abstinence pledge, and you aren’t raped, and you aren’t the mother of God, things should go swimmingly.

    • alwr

      I know it is highly unfashionable on this blog and it is not considered “sex positive” to say so and LA loves to talk about IUDs and Pills, BUT all three of those things are entirely possible. And, some of us, still think that not having sex is the best option for 15 year olds, and that pumping your reproductive system full of extra hormones is not a brilliant idea unless medically necessary. (And it never fails to fascinate me when the same people that want to ban genetically modified foods, only eat local/organic, only use herbal meds and yoga, etc…have no problem with using hormonal contraception and never bat an eye at how much it interferes with the natural functions of their bodies).

      • Jayn

        The issue most of us have isn’t with abstinence as an option, though, it’s with it being presented as the ONLY option, usually to the exclusion of talking about other ways of preventing pregnancy and illness. I’m well aware that those three things are possible–they got me through my teen years fine (minus the actual pledge part). But I also knew what my other options were, and when I DID become sexually active I was able to make informed choices about what, if any, methods of BC to use. And had I become sexually active during my teens years, then having that information would have been useful sooner. Regardless of what YOU think is best for other people, you’re not the one ultimately making choices for them, beyond perhaps constraining choices by withholding information. Teens need and deserve to have information about their other options, whether they become sexually active at 15 or 25.

      • enuma

        And abstinence education is almost always of the “sex is dirty, dangerous, and shameful” variety. Abstinence education should be very focused on the ethics of consent, teaching teens that consent is not a default state that must be explicitly revoked but rather something that should be enthusiastically (which does not necessarily mean verbally) given.

        For example, I know of a case where a young girl had a conversation with her boyfriend about having sex for the first time. They agreed to have sex after a school dance. The night of the dance came and she realized she wasn’t ready and didn’t want to have sex. She said this to her boyfriend, but he forced her to have sex anyway. She and her mother initially pressed charges, but later dropped them because he managed to convince her that the consent she gave during their conversation carried over to the night of the dance. If she’d been properly educated about her rights, if he’d been properly educated about what consent means, then maybe not only would the guy have been convicted of the rape he committed, maybe the rape wouldn’t have happened at all.

        Instead of trying to convince all teenagers that they shouldn’t have sex, let’s focus empowering the ones who already know they aren’t ready to have their decisions respected.

      • LizBert

        That is awful. And enraging.

      • picklefactory

        I can’t tell if your point is “it might turn out fine, so deceiving teenagers is the best policy” or that people who make arguments via an appeal to nature or commit a naturalistic fallacy usually wind up looking like hypocrites.

      • alwr

        No. My point is that some people do choose abstinence and do remain abstinent. We don’t have to assume that it is NEVER a reality. We can also teach about sexuality and encourage abstinence, particularly for young teens, and still give information about contraception. I never even addressed that issue in my post. What I do object to is the attitude that because some teens have sex, we should just wash our hands of the whole things and get every girl an IUD or a prescription for birth control around age eleven or so. Being sexually active at a young age is often not a great choice. Yet this blog and others like it assume two things, 1–it is a horrifying prospect bordering on abuse to say that is might not be a good choice and 2–People who suggest it is not are part of the purity culture. There is a middle ground where neither of those things is true. But I find that black and white thinking is not confined to fundamentalist religion. And, btw, my spouse and I cannot support a child at this time and we use contraception but not a hormonal one. I do not object to contraception or contraception information being available to people, even teens.

      • picklefactory

        My point is that some people do choose abstinence and do remain abstinent. We don’t have to assume that it is NEVER a reality. We can also teach about sexuality and encourage abstinence, particularly for young teens, and still give information about contraception.

        Couldn’t agree more, though it might depend on what you mean by ‘encourage.’

        1–it is a horrifying prospect bordering on abuse to say that is might not be a good choice

        Tip: you do not need to resort to hyperbole when you’re crushing a straw man with a single blow. Literally nobody ever said this.

        2–People who suggest it is not are part of the purity culture.

        I suspect that Libby Anne makes arguments against purity culture nonsense because she was raised in it, and knows first-hand how damaging it can be, not because she believes that everyone still a virgin at 12 is part of the purity culture. As she pointed out, there are people still showing up months later in the mammoth comment thread on that viral post with their terrible cut-n-paste anti-choice arguments.

      • Lunch Meat

        What I do object to is the attitude that because some teens have sex, we
        should just wash our hands of the whole things and get every girl an
        IUD or a prescription for birth control around age eleven or so.

        Yeah, no one is saying this either.

      • Niemand

        We can also teach about sexuality and encourage abstinence, particularly
        for young teens, and still give information about contraception.

        I’m rather partial to my HS’s approach to sex ed. There was a discussion of sex and the reasons one might want to be abstinent. And the reasons one might NOT want to be abstinent and what the options for birth control were if one wanted to have sex. I suspect that teenagers would take a sex ed course more seriously if it involved an acknowledgement that sex is fun and there are reasons for choosing to have sex as well as good reasons to wait. (TMI disclosure: I didn’t have sex because I considered the issue and decided I didn’t like any of the boys around. Or the girls either. In college I did find the boys attractive and, thanks to HS sex ed, knew how to manage that attraction safely.)

      • Gillianren

        Yeah, there are some times and places where abstinence is easier than others. But when I decided I was ready to have sex, and when there was a partner with whom I wanted to have sex, I had sex. I don’t see a contradiction between encouraging people to wait until they’re ready and teaching them what to do when they decide they are.

      • Niemand

        I agree. In fact, I’d say that they were complementary: encourage people to think about sex, what they want out of sex, who they want to be with, and how to make it safe for themselves and their partners, mentally and physically. Then they’ll be in a better position to say no or yes.

      • KnBa

        Nobody is assuming that it is never a reality – what that would look like is claiming a typical use rate of 0% in this post. You’re putting words in people’s mouths, then trying to claim it reflects poorly on them when the ideas contained within the words are specious.

      • Mariana

        You must be confusing an IUD/pill prescription with the HPV vaccine, or perhaps this blog with some other?

        I’m pretty sure what LA and others on this blog advocate for 11 year olds is:

        1) Accurate information about sex and birth control (that discourages them from having sex “until they are ready” and encourages them to think deeply about what that means)

        2) an HPV vaccine (although for LA, it’s not in her top ten list of things she advocates for)

        If you have an open and honest relationship with your kids, they will come to you _before_ they have sex, and can get on birth control before that happens. No need to do it prematurely.

        [This is the approach my parents took. I began taking the pill when I turned 18 at the end of high school and had sex for the first time shortly thereafter. I went to the same OBGYN as my mom (who delivered me), so I got the full lecture from a very qualified, licensed medical professional.]

      • The_L1985

        “What I do object to is the attitude that because some teens have sex, we
        should just wash our hands of the whole things and get every girl an
        IUD or a prescription for birth control around age eleven or so.”

        Um, what? How is this at all what anybody is saying?

      • sylvia_rachel

        I’m not seeing where anyone here is arguing that 11-year-olds should be getting IUDs …

      • The_L1985

        Some 11-year-olds aren’t even big enough for an IUD to fit in there! Plus, you just shouldn’t go with something that invasive for a child that young.

      • Beroli

        So…what you object to, when you get right down to it, is that Libby Anne went and made an argument that wasn’t the one you were prepared to refute, and now when you give your planned rebuttal, people will say mean, nasty things like “missing the point” “and “that’s not what she said”?

      • Trollface McGee

        Where has any blog suggested that instead of abstinence we should have mandatory sex lessons with BC given out along with school lunches? Oh that’s right..Strawman Land (and the Onion which had a rather good piece the other day http://www.theonion.com/articles/teen-pregnancy-rate-prompting-more-high-schools-to,32286/).

        Every good, sex-positive, informationally accurate sex ed program has abstinence as a part of the curriculum because yes, it is not good for people to have sex when they aren’t ready. This IS the middle ground position.

        Abstinence only programs – studies have shown them to be full of purity/misogynistic stereotypes, inaccurate information, homophobia etc. etc. none of which is good for teens, none of which reduces teen pregnancy or STDs. It isn’t washing our hands, it is picking the effective, respectful curriculum over the ineffective ideological one.

      • Jolie

        By the way, weren’t there some-studies showing that teenagers are more likely to have sex for reasons related to peer pressure/popularity as opposed to actually wanting to have sex when they are exposed to abstinence-only rather than comprehensive sex-ed? Libby Anne might have quoted something to this effectat some point if I’m not confusing.

      • tsara

        There are many reasons to have sex. There are many reasons to not have sex. It is horrifying and bordering on abuse to claim to educate people on sex while not actually giving them the information they need to make an informed decision. Nobody is saying that anybody has to have sex. Nobody is condemning people for not having sex. What people are condemning is people in positions of authority withholding accurate information and promoting misinformation, while heavily judging everybody who does not behave according to their ideal models. That is not okay.

        And, yeah, abstinence is possible (*waves* person who has never had sex, right here). It’s just that it’s a value-neutral thing in general, and can only be a positive thing when it’s a free and uncoerced decision — and with the way abstinence is taught, the ‘free and uncoerced’ part is in question.

      • AlisonCummins

        Where did Libby-Anne or anyone else say that all eleven-year-olds should get IUDs? Because if that’s the statement you’re responding to, I think I missed it.

        Also, who said “it is a horrifying prospect bordering on abuse to say that [being sexually active at a young age] might not be a good choice?” I seem to have missed that one too.

        And “People who suggest [being sexually active at a young age is not a good choice] are part of the purity culture” is another one I seem to have missed.
        Libby Anne and most of the posters here seem to be in favour of both truth and choice. Which of those two are you opposed to?

      • Anat

        Look, depends what you mean by ‘natural function of your body’. If we take the view that we are more likely to be adapted to conditions our ancestors lived in than to those they did not then the ‘natural’ hormonal state a woman’s body is most likely to be adapted to is the state of almost constant cycles of pregnancy and nursing from a few years past puberty to close to menopause, thus mimicking those conditions with artificial hormones would be a closer approximation of our natural state than having ‘natural’ periods for decades.

      • Olive Markus

        Very, very good point. Most NFPers or anti-ABCers tend to ignore the extraordinary modern life of privilege they experience. The fact that NFP even exists to offer some modicum of control over their pregnancies is very much not representative of how our ancestors managed survival. Given how slowly evolution works, we are probably adapted to live the way of our ancestors. By choosing not to, we are thwarting “nature,” if that’s the way we’re going to look at it.

      • Lunch Meat

        Here’s the other thing about saying BC is “unnatural”–I agree that, in general, women with good access to medical services should try to find the birth planning and regulation system that is healthiest and works best for them and their body. However, to say that NFP is automatically, intrinsically better than hormonal birth control privileges nature’s goals and desires* over mine. It’s saying that automatic, biological, impersonal processes in a woman’s body should have greater weight in deciding what happens to her than her own wants and needs. That is incredibly disrespectful to women’s agency.

        *pretending nature has goals and desires because it’s the easiest way to say this.

      • Olive Markus

        So exactly right on here.

        Here’s what most bothers me about it: NFPers don’t live their lives in a way that “privileges nature’s goals and desires,” (quoting you because it’s perfectly said :D) in any way except when talking about sex. Their entire lives revolve around asserting agency over their own lives and thwarting the effects of natural processes. Then, without any sense of hypocrisy or irony, they claim that NFP or not using contraception is natural, and, therefore, the only way for a healthy woman and a healthy society. There is something about the unwillingness to think this through critically that makes me so angry.

        That said, I personally don’t use hormonal BCP because it did very bad things to my body, I also don’t think NFP is intrinsically bad. If you want to use it, because you think it’s the best thing for you, then, please, use it. But don’t claim it’s natural, please. I’m for education, honesty and choices. It’s the hypocrisy coupled with the superiority complex that drives me crazy…

      • Christine

        Natural would be me being crippled every couple of months. NFP is a great improvement over that! (NFP and lovely lovely meds)

      • Olive Markus

        Would it be very wrong of me to ask what those lovely, lovely meds are? :) Despite spending years attempting to balance my hormones to avoid agony (and get my libido back), I’ve been mostly unsuccessful. Ironically, and off topic, the supplements that help reduce pain somewhat also suppress my libido more. The ones that elevate the libido a bit tend not to help my pain (and they break me out like crazy). I will not do BCPs again (two attempts, several years each time) but all doctors prescribe BCPs and won’t prescribe medication to get through the pain :.

      • Christine

        I got prescribed naproxen, it’s a NSAID that’s known to be rather effective with menstrual pain. The catch is that it’s more effective if you take it earlier, rather than later. So in combination with charting my periods, it’s great (I’m not perfect on charting, but I can predict well enough to pay attention to the first little twinges). I know that there also exists a prescription-strength ibuprofen that helps some people, and a friend of mine actually got Tylenol 3′s to help (she had to stop using them because they exacerbated her anxiety, but they apparently fixed the pain problems). My SIL actually had a lot of success with dietary control, but that’s a bit of work to pull off.

        I had to try BCP too, and I partially blame the crappy Health Services doctor at my university that I was seeing. He didn’t really seem to take me seriously when I said that I was basically experiencing pain without the pain (I phrased it slightly differently), and was there anything else I could do?

      • Olive Markus

        Thanks for the information!

        I’ve been on a strict, restricted diet for years now. No help. Didn’t help with my acne, either, so after years and lots of scars, I resorted to Accutane. Which made my hormonal problems worse :D. More often than not, my doctors say “Huh. I’ve never seen that before.” when dealing with me!

        I do think there are too many doctors out there who are unhelpful and should be a lot more compassionate and educated. I had bad experiences with BCP, but also antidepressants. I am all for these things, but they must be prescribed with care and diligent observation. Instead, they tend to completely write off our experience with these prescriptions. Maddening.

      • Christine

        The doctor did acknowledge that some women just can’t use the pill. But he didn’t really seem to know that there were other options. (And this wasn’t just a “I don’t want to be in pain” thing – I was in university at the time. Missing a day can be risky.)

        I forgot to mention – a friend is using the IUD for period control. The thought of it scared me (hormonal birth control that I couldn’t just quit?), but she apparently is another person who can’t use the pill. An added bonus, if you are going to have kids, is that you can use it immediately afterwards. No need for alternate birth control.

      • Olive Markus

        I think I am one of those women! I tried so many kinds and they were all a nightmare. Same with antidepressants. I have a very difficult time with reactions to medications/herbs/even vitamins.

        I’m going to look into the NSAID you recommended, though. I don’t seem to have negative reactions to those. If I can get through the pain, my life will be so much better!

      • tsara

        You’ll probably want to avoid herbal remedies, then, as you’ll probably have a really difficult time working out an accurate dose because the amounts of active compounds varies a lot in plants.

      • Olive Markus

        Yes, I’ve had bad reactions to those, too, and have learned to stay clear. The one thing I can use that seems to do mostly good things for me is Red Raspberry Leaf. I like it, too :).

      • victoria

        Naproxen is my wonder drug for menstrual pain too. A largish dose within 30 minutes of starting my period usually means no cramps whatsoever, and mine are pretty awful unmedicated.

      • angharad

        I used Naproxen for many years too. It’s available without prescription here (Australia). It worked pretty well, but like all NSAIDs it’s not too good for your GI tract. After about nine or ten years I had to stop taking it because the stomach aches it was causing were worse than the period pain.

      • Christine

        My SIL managed to have that problem with just ibuprofen too. I found it very annoying to have my “drug that I need to not throw up” be a “take with food”, but I totally understood the need to protect my stomach lining.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Marijuana.

      • Olive Markus

        :D

        I’ve been told by many people that it would be incredibly helpful for my anxiety. If it helps with menstrual cramps, I think I’m sold!

        Now I need to find a way to get it. I am sadly lacking in social networks.

      • onamission5

        MJ makes my own anxiety much, much worse, BUT it helps a relative of mine who has worse anxiety than I do very much and two of my exgf’s swear by it for cramps.

      • Olive Markus

        Thanks for that info. I just asked my husband about it (I guess he knows somebody :)) and he said that he only tried it a few times when he was younger and it made him very anxious and paranoid. So, that is something I have to keep in mind.

      • onamission5

        I should add that it didn’t always make my anxiety worse, but it did with enough frequency that I went teetotaler. I’m also somewhat more prone to adverse physical reactions than seems common, so ymmv, for sure.

      • Olive Markus

        Well, I tend to have negative reactions much more often than normal, as well. I’ve had good reactions with so few treatments, prescribed or otherwise, so I will certainly take your comment seriously.

      • AlisonCummins

        I’d say try it for pain, and if it lifts your anxiety in the short term just enjoy that. But don’t try it for just for the anxiety even if it seems to work because it is likely to be self-defeating in the long run.

      • LizBert

        I would be very cautious about treating anxiety with weed. Users will tell you that it’s a cure all for anything that ever ails you, but most studies indicate that it can exacerbate anxiety. That is certainly what I have personally experienced.

      • The_L1985

        “Am I falling out of this chair?”

      • Olive Markus

        It seems like several people agree with you, so I will tread carefully or not at all :).

      • AlisonCummins

        It’s actually not that great for anxiety even though lots of people use it for that. It works in the short term but you get dependent on it. It can also cause paranoia which can worsen anxiety.

      • NeaDods

        To be fair, that’s EXACTLY the message of complimentarianism. Biology is destiny.

      • Guest

        Part of the ‘natural function of our body’ is also our ability to have thoughts, plan and strategize, and that includes deciding to override some other function of our body.

      • Rosa

        They are certainly possible – about 20% of people who take abstinence pledges keep them. That’s a lot of people.

        It doesn’t equal 100% effectiveness of typical people, though.

      • WordSpinner

        I’m a 22 year old virgin. I didn’t pledge abstinence and I don’t consider sex before marriage wrong–I just haven’t been in a situation where I wanted to have sex (I think I have a very low sex drive.)

        I also wonder how long that 20% is from, and how the compares to non-pledgers who remained abstinent during that time.

        (I’ve also been on and off bc since seventh grade for hell cramps, so there is that.)

      • ako

        I’m fully in favor of fifteen-year-olds not having sex. I would definitely recommend that any fifteen-year-old not have sex yet. However, there are different ways of encouraging fifteen-year-olds not to have sex, and I think we should look at both effectiveness and harm. Things like virginity pledges and abstinence-only education, when judged by the evidence, don’t seem to work any better than less-damaging approaches, often promote sexist stereotypes, and lead to worse outcomes for teenagers who don’t remain abstinent. Give kids the facts on the risks, and make sure they know, for instance, that condoms are generally effective, but not perfectly so, but don’t twist things to scare them.

        Plus, only part of abstinence advocacy is focused on teenagers; lines like “Abstinence is 100 percent effective” get thrown at adults who want other reproductive health options. I don’t think it’s universally true that a twenty-five-year-old is better off waiting until marriage, or that a married tweny-five-year-old should be required either to have baby after baby with no regard for their preference, or do without sex altogether.

        I’m not fond of the chemical-versus-natural framework in deciding what people should do. Scientifically, it’s confusing, and it’s one of those areas where it’s more complicated than that. Using medicine has risks, and forgoing medicine has different risks. Deciding what’s the best options depends on the specifics of the case and what you value as best, not on something as simple as “unnatural=bad”.

      • Jolie

        Imagine a counter-factual dystopian world in which only these two options exist/are thinkable:
        either OPTION 1
        you have sex at 15; with all the medical and emotional risks; but with at least some knowledge of what condoms are and a possibility of using them; although possibly frown upon.

        -or OPTION 2:
        you only get one sexual partner for all of your life- and you have to marry them before you first have sex. (Presumably; although highly frowned upon, adultery is thinkable/physically possible).

        I don’t know how it would look to a 15-year-old, but to me, with the 23-year-old mind, I’m not sure which-one is worse.

        Granted, OPTION 1 poses some risk of children being born outside of marriage which OPTION 2 does not; a higher risk of having children you’re not ready for (although you can be married and still not ready for children) and presumably a higher risk of STD’s
        (although you and your married partner can still cheat and then get STD’s.). These are somewhat (albeit not) preventable because condoms do exist in-universe, but the risks are still statistically higher.

        Looking at it from an emotional health/wellbeing perspective, however, I’m pretty convinced OPTION 2 fares worse than OPTION 1 in this department: If you have sex before you are ready to, giving in to peer pressure; and then the person happens to be a complete jerkass, it will hurt. You may feel significantly disillusioned with sex and relationships; but you can bounce back; you can learn how to love yourself and choose your next partner more wisely, with the maturity of a lesson learned. You will have learned something about who you are sexually- as a person- whom you are or aren’t compatible with; albeit a lesson that, if you weren’t living in that wacky dystopia, could have learned a lot more painlessly and safely a few years later.

        On the other hand, marrying someone while having no idea whether you are sexually compatible or not is a much more dangerous recipe for disaster: if it doesn’t work out, it’s much harder to leave; you can’t just hope “oh well, maybe the next-one will be better”. If he’s a jerkass that does not care about your pleasure and that may even be physically or emotionally abusive, it’s much harder to walk out. You never get to fully figure out who you are sexually because you never get the chance to explore; you may think you don’t really like sex- and you never get to figure out that maybe you’re a lesbian married to a man- or maybe you just don’t have the same kinks. You may become estranged, you may cheat just to see how it’s like with someone else- which is much more emotionally unhealthy than merely ending a relationship with a lesser degree of commitment and starting a new-one- or you may end in bitter divorce. Unlike if you have, let’s say, sex on the 7th date, if you only have sex after marriage you can’t be like “Oh well, if we really aren’t sexually compatible I’ll divorce him and marry someone else”.

        We are lucky not to live in that dystopia: and I’m definitely not advocating either OPTION 1 or OPTION 2: I’ve quite conclusively shown they both suck. The reason for this experiment was to point out that, if you present waiting until marriage as the only alternative to having sex before you are emotionally ready- well, you kind of make having sex at 15 sound not so bad by comparison…..

      • ako

        That’s really horrible. (Even nastier in my head because I’m a lesbian and unless there’s evidence to the contrary I tend to assume that “No premarital sex and one spouse ever” means “No premarital sex and one opposite-sex spouse ever” and being trapped in a marriage with a man would be very bad indeed.)

        I agree. I think a lot of the purity culture advocacy stuff does exactly that kind of harm. There are options other than sex at fifteen or lifelong monogamy. There are options other than teenage girls being actively encouraged to put themselves on sexual display or being shamed for showing a bit too much knee. You can teach a girl her self-worth isn’t derived from sexiness and pleasing men without sending the message that unless she remains untouched, she’s garbage. But they promote these stupid, poisonous false dichotomies to make their brand of damaging beliefs seem much more palatable.

      • Niemand

        There’s extraordinarily little evidence that genetically modified foods are in any way dangerous (heck, almost all our food is genetically modified…you don’t think that’s natural corn, do you?) or that organic foods are in any way better for you. And “herbal medications” can and do kill. Women who take OCP have a slightly lower overall mortality than women who don’t. There are many nuances about who should use hormonal contraceptives, when, and why, but simply saying “pumping your reproductive system full of extra hormones is not a brilliant idea” is so oversimplified as to be a falsehood.

      • AlisonCummins

        It is a falsehood. Pregnancy is far, far more dangerous than taking the pill. If you are concerned about your health, taking the pill can be pretty smart.

      • Niemand

        There are people for whom the OCP is not a good choice. That’s why there are other options. That being said, I agree with your larger point that pregnancy is far more dangerous and most of the dangers of taking the pill are worse during pregnancy. Protecting yourself from unwanted pregnancy by whatever means works best for you is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.

      • The_L1985

        “have no problem with using hormonal contraception and never bat an eye
        at how much it interferes with the natural functions of their bodies”

        I’m actually glad that it interferes with the “natural function” of my body! My body’s “natural function” was making me deeply depressed every time I ovulated, and too dizzy/in pain to do much of anything during my period. Why would I want to put up with that when I don’t have to?

        The only GMO’s that I have an issue with are the modifications specifically relating to herbicide/pesticide resistance. Because I certainly don’t have those genes myself, and neither do my kids!

      • NeaDods

        Oh, please! Poison ivy is a natural substance, while penicillin interferes with the natural function of the body. Heck, toothpaste interferes with the natural function of the body! A little interference for overall health is a good thing! And natural substances are not always healthier alternatives!

      • Niemand

        Hey, penicillin’s a natural substance. It’s a fungus. Bread mold, I think. No dissing penicillin. (And yeah, I agree with your point. Just being fussy.)

      • NeaDods

        That’s why I said it interfered with natural bodily functions. :) And I’m so very grateful it does! :D

      • The_L1985

        The fellow who discovered the antiseptic properties of penicillin, IIRC, used mold that was growing on an orange.

      • smrnda

        Natural function = drop dead before 40 after a very hard life spent foraging for berries and using stone tools.

        I’ll take artificial over natural any day.

      • Conuly

        I can think that fifteen year olds probably shouldn’t have sex without lying to them about the effectiveness of various birth control methods or denying them information that might be useful to them in the future.

        Or yes, even now! Because while I think fifteen year olds probably shouldn’t have sex, I think they definitely shouldn’t be pregnant.

      • Composer 99

        I wouldn’t go so far as to say 15-year olds probably shouldn’t have sex; rather, that they should put more thought into whether and when to do so.

      • Trollface McGee

        Yes, not having sex is a good thing for many 15 year olds. But you know what? 15 year olds are going to have sex. Over the years teenagers have been threatened with homelessness, shunning, ostracism, even death and they still have sex. And since we know that they are going to have sex, then we should make sure that they do so with knowledge of how to do so safely.

        Abstinence-only does not only not work, it also makes people feel guilty or feel that carrying around condoms or using BC is unnecessary and they are less likely to have safe sex as a result/

        You know what adds a crapola of hormones to your body? Pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones were horrible on my mind and my body in a way that BC never has been. So yeah, I’m more than happy to have that “natural” function of my body disrupted in the same way I’m happy to be vaccinated against deadly natural diseases.

      • Semipermeable

        FYI, not all IUD’s are hormonal. Copper IUD’s do not use hormones.

        I’m not sure what the point of your parentheses rant is, because no one here is talking about any of those issues. You just listed off several unrelated things people have opinions about. Do you think everyone here/every ‘liberal’ is a character from Portlandia or something?

        Also the ‘interferes with natural functions’ part needs a citation unless you are referring to menstration. If you are, I fail to see the problem.

      • mpanchuk

        Sorry if I came across as though I was making fun of abstinence or the desire to avoid harmful substances. I’m married and don’t use hormonal birth-contral because of health concerns. I also encourage my teenaged friends and relatives to wait to have sex. But I think it is harmful when we (1) pretend that humans never make mistakes, (2) call abstinence contraception (3) don’t tell teens what things they should do if they do end up having sex. Having sex at 15 may be irresponsible. But having irresponsible sex at 15 is even more so.

      • AlisonCummins

        Of course it’s possible to not become pregnant while using the “abstinence” method of birth control.

        It’s also possible to not become pregnant while on the pill.

        That doesn’t make either abstinence or the pill 100% effective, which is the point of the post. However, the pill is very effective and abstinence much less so.

      • AlisonCummins

        In terms of “extra hormones,” monthly cycles are pretty unnatural and not what we are adapted for.

        What is most “natural” is to become pregnant during one’s teens. There may however be compelling reasons not to. There are lots of things we do that aren’t “natural” but that are good anyway, or that are “natural” but are bad anyway.

        And you might think “the world would be so much better if all young people waited until they were sixteen to have sex” (the age you propose as your cut-off?) but that doesn’t address the fact that not all young people do wait that long. Lying to young people about birth control and sexuality does not magically cause them to wait, it just causes them to make ignorant choices.

        What are you proposing exactly?

      • Japooh

        MOST of us agree that not having sex is the best choice for 15 year olds – this isn’t some special position only held by pro-lifers. What we DISAGREE about is that trying to pretend that this can somehow be legislated into reality to be true for every 15 year old is silly and dangerously naive. Some kids ARE going to have sex at 15 or even earlier. Some will wait a few years, some will wait until marriage. ALL of them should have uniform factual information about the various methods of avoiding unwanted pregnancy. Abstinence is avoidance of sex, not avoidance of pregnancy, it’s just that simple.

        Your parenthetic aside about GM food and hormones appears to be pulled from thin air – were you speaking to a particular post or just attempting to create some drama?

        No one is going to force unwanted birth control on anyone but there sure are a lot of folks who want to prevent anyone from having access to it. EDUCATION please – a mind really is a terrible thing to waste

      • Wednesday

        (1) Not all IUDs are hormonal (eg, the ParaGuard). Many people who have issues with hormones opt for one of those. It… kind of worries me that you don’t seem to know that.

        (2) If we’re going to get all crunchy granola hippie here, one thing that’s “unnatural” is our current average high fertility rate and early onset of puberty. A lot of this is due to having better nutrition and more calories than we would have “naturally”, ie, before industrial society; some of it’s caused by other things.

        (3) In my circle, eating local foods is more about supporting local family farmers (as opposed to Big Ag) than it is about Being Natural. Opting for organic produce and meat, or antibiotic-free meat, or free-range can also be more about environmental or ethical concerns than about Being natural.

        (4), and most important, it doesn’t have to be abstinence XOR reliable information about contraception. We can still encourage fifteen-year-olds to abstain until they are ready (and we can privately hope they aren’t ready until N years of age) without refusing to give them good information about what to do when they are ready, and without shaming those who are currently sexually active about being sexually active.

        The younger someone is sexually active, especially below the age of fifteen, the more likely it is that they’re in an abusive situation. Even if we were okay with throwing safe-and-healthy-and sexually-active fifteen-year-olds under a bus for being sexually active, which we shouldn’t be, there are the many teenagers who are sexually active who are in an abusive relationship and therefore need accurate and unbiased information so they can recognize the situation they’re in (if they don’t yet), understand that it is NOT their fault and they do NOT deserve it, know that it’s not normal, and hopefully get resources to escape it.

        If we just say “sex is dirty m’kay”, which is what abstinence-only sex ed does, we are actively hurting victims and survivors of rape and abuse.

  • Joykins

    I think that the math of “typical use of abstinence” numbers presented here is questionable because virginity pledgers and NFP/FAM users are poor proxies for people who actually intend to use abstinence as birth control for (at least) a whole year.(which is how these effectiveness rates are calculated, over a year of use). People who are abstaining because they are not in a sexual relationship don’t count as using birth control; at best they’re going in under your “perfect use” figures. And young teenagers who make pledges–many of whom are pressured to take the pledge, forget the pledge or take it less seriously as they age, or never took it seriously to begin with–don’t really have sex lives that are all that different than other people of their backgrounds.

    No, if we base our calculation on the assumption that people who intend to use abstinence as birth control *are in sexual relationships* but *don’t intend to have the kind of sex that can cause pregnancy,*–we don’t have really good figures on them, but the pledger studies indicate they are at increased risk of STD but decreased risk of pregnancy. But given my experience, alternative sex is something you can keep going for a VERY long time. And of course, as Dan Savage says, many gay people are apparently abstinent for their whole lives …

    • The_L1985

      One of the things that deeply bothered me about Margaret Weis’s Mistress of Dragons was the implication that the main character, who was explicitly described as being in a committed lesbian relationship, was “a virgin.” NO. No she wasn’t. You even had the lead-up to lesbian sex in the book (one of those fade-to-black sort of things) before that happened. Bad Margaret. Bad.

  • brbr2424

    I suspect the “abstinence is the most effective method of birth control”
    people are actually more interested in preventing premarital sex than
    they are in helping women control when and whether to become pregnant.

    That’s the heart of it right there. The right wing spilled the beans on that completely when they broadened their war on women by fighting against contraception.

    • smrnda

      I don’t think they really want to prevent premarital sex. They want sluts punished with STDs and babies so they can come crawling to the church for repentance, validation, and some free diapers. The real goal is creating a sense of shame around sex.

      • The_L1985

        And they certainly succeed at this quite well!

  • Lucreza Borgia

    Sorry, but I can’t help snarking on this one!

    • Saraquill

      This was a meme in my college

    • Gillianren

      I was diagnosed with anemia in high school. When people asked me if I could possibly be pregnant, I told them it would be the second time that had ever happened to a woman.

  • Jeri

    The comment I started while I ate my breakfast cereal turned into its own blog post:

    http://heresyintheheartland.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-stress-of-natural-family-planning.html

    • Rosa

      That is beautiful and personal.

      Also, I’m so sorry

    • Olive Markus

      Wonderful, wonderful post. I am so sorry things worked out this way for you :(.

      You bring up great points, particularly about Catholics skewing NFP “success” numbers by saying that any pregnancy was desired all along. So disgustingly manipulative and dishonest. And then Catholics wonder why we don’t respect their “helpful suggestions?”

      Fertility awareness is a wonderful and important part of being a woman, but it is no substitute for contraception when a sexually active couple is unprepared for pregnancy. And it is morally wrong for religious or health professionals to suggest that it is.

      1000 Up Votes for this. I completely agree.

    • been there….

      I read your comment and can’t figure out how to comment on your blog so I’ll post it here…..

      My husband and I have been through the same thing with a Creighton teacher when we were newlyweds. Our honeymoon baby was a welcome blessing. But after begin celibate until marriage we were not prepared to continue to live without being intimate physically.

      The Creighton model is a real zinger. We had about 3 or 4 days a month that were “infertile” but only at the end of the day. I found it very humiliating working with the creighton instructor and eventually came to the conclusion that they were not being truthful. My fertility also returned at 8 weeks postpartum. I actually tried another creighton instructor and found her to be humiliating.

      We welcomed more children with open arms but we used barrier methods combined with our knowledge of our fertility to avoid conception when we needed to.

      Just wanted to say I understand.

      • smrnda

        That method sounds like some kind of weird psychological torture. Get people to obsess over biometrics, deny them sex and create anxiety and require that you tell some ‘instructor’ a bunch of stuff about your personal business.

        All said, any method of doing anything that is too difficult is a bad method.

  • The_L1985

    “Let’s start with an analogy. Imagine if you asked your friend told your friend you were going to be doing some gardening”

    You might want to fix that. ;)

  • Michael W Busch

    One thought:

    I think the comparison between abstinence and actual contraception works better if the emphasis is on perfect- and typical-use failure rates, which you did use at a couple of points. 99.93% and 99.95% efficacy may look similar, but they’re quite significantly different – because what really matters is the failure rate and 0.07% is a factor of 1.4 greater than 0.05%.

    And it highlights the differences in the typical-use rates as well:

    Abstinence (wrongly considered as contraception): 50%
    Condoms: 15%
    Oral contraceptive pills: 8%
    Fertility awareness: 2%
    IUD, non-hormonal: 0.6%
    IUD, hormonal: 0.2%
    Implant: 0.05%

    It’s a way of emphasizing the three orders-of-magnitude deficient in efficacy.

  • Guest

    This is an excellent article. I admit, I’ve never been able to counter the ‘abstinence is 100% effective’ myth before. It felt wrong, but I couldn’t explain why. Now, I will be able to.

  • Machintelligence

    Oddly enough vasectomy hasn’t been mentioned yet (or I missed it in the 100+ comments.) It’s not for every male, obviously, since reversal is iffy and expensive, but it certainly is effective. Besides, having a vasectomy never means having to say you’re sorry (for contraception failure.) :-)

    • trinity91

      sterilization isn’t 100% effective. It also precludes knowing that you never want children, which may not be the case. My husband and I don’t want children RIGHT NOW, but we do in the future. Trying to advocate for a one size fits all solution isn’t going to work. That’s why abstinence only education is so bad because it gives you no other option.

      • lucifermourning

        way to completely miss the point. Machintelligence clearly said “It’s not for every male, obviously, since reversal is iffy and expensive”

        vascetomy is a very effective method for men prepared to take that step.

      • smrnda

        Is it that expensive? I heard on some plans they are not that much.

      • Michael W Busch

        Total cost per procedure for vasectomy is a few thousand USD. Cost for reversal is a few times that, and as stated that procedure is iffy. Compared to current effective and reversible methods for people with ovaries it is a factor of several more expensive.

        Hence the interest in new procedures.

      • smrnda

        Is that the raw cost? Someone I know (my memory may be faulty) said it cost about 250 since it counted as ‘minor surgical procedure’ on his insurance. Then again, health care costs are so ridiculously variable in this country.

      • Michael W Busch

        Total cost, distributed between provider, insurance, and individual depending on the details of your insurance plan.

      • Rosa

        my husband paid a $40 copay for his v. Smart on the part of his insurer since my pregnancy/my son’s birth cost the insurer upwards of $100,000.

        There’s a more expensive version of the procedure that is less likely to cause pain as a side effects. That might make costs for different people even more variable.

      • victoria

        I looked it up on our plan. Vasectomies are covered at 90%, and IIRC we paid around $250 out of pocket. Vasectomy reversals are not covered at all on our insurance, and it looks like the going rate around here is somewhere around $8000.

    • Michael W Busch

      There has been some promising work on easily-reversible long-lasting contraception for people with testes, plugging the vas deferens with a dissolvable plug (the project I heard about was called Vasagel). May that become an option – then contraception will both be far more egalitarian and a couple of orders of magnitude more effective.

  • jhlee

    Great job pushing back on this disingenuous argument. If the anti-contraception crowd is going to push abstinence as a birth control method (which it’s not, as you and Heather point out so astutely), then they’d better be prepared to field abstinence in the same arena of facts and proof. You did a great job of doing just that. I hope you’ll post responses from the other side if there are any.

    My only concern with this article is Holy Quote Block, Batman! I think it’s a good idea to get the author’s permission for such a lengthy quote if you haven’t done so already. Personally I think the entire quote could be summarized without losing much, or a summary plus the final quoted paragraph would work just as well. This would make readers likelier to click over to see Heather’s full article.

  • j.lup

    And on top of everything else mentioned about abstinence, the commitment to the pretense of abstinence means not talking about having sex, not planning to have sex, and certainly not using or purchasing contraception, so when two abstinence-practicers are making out and ‘one thing leads to another and things just happen,’ the chance that they’ll even have a condom at hand, let alone use, it is slim-to-none. (If you take the ten seconds required to open and put on a condom, you can’t delude yourself that you simply got carried away in the moment.) So if no planning and no precautions are taken, they can claim that they ‘didn’t intend things to go that far’ and absolve themselves of responsibility, and at the same time enjoy the self-righteousness that comes from being repentant and redeemed by Christ.

    • tsara

      Fun fact: I know of three instances of unplanned pregnancies resulting from just that sort of thinking. Guess how those three pregnancies ended…

      • Olive Markus

        Yup! I think it’s somewhat common.

  • Katherine A.

    “…for example, calling abstinence birth control is like calling bald a hair color—but you get the point.”

    This reminds me of how creationists call atheism or evolution a religion.

  • Things1to3

    I am convinced that abstinence only teaching has little to do with the well being of the kids and a lot to do with letting parents put their heads in the sand and ignore the whole issue.

    My whole sex ed consisted of Dobson publications and Chick tracts with this one http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0090/0090_01.asp being the one I remember best.

    • The_L1985

      D: I am so, SO glad I never read that. How horrible!

    • tsara

      That’s so creepy. I have no first-hand experience, but I’m pretty sure that if your feeling after having had sex is “he was gross, I never want to see him again” that means that something was wrong and you did not, in fact, have fully consensual sex. Also, the guy looked way older than her, and, and, her mom (or whoever that was), and the terrible doctor, and it’s all just gross.

      • Things1to3

        Exactly. There was no talk of consent, there was no discussion of basic safety. She’s going to a neighbor for advice and only begins to ask questions after the entire incident. It’s a train wreck of disinformation and chasms of ignorance all to enforce abstinence as the only reasonable solution.
        The best bit is at the end: You broke God’s law, so you’re going to die a horrible death, and it’s All Your Fault, but SMILE Jesus loves you!

    • Beutelratti

      Uhm … at least they got as far as realising that AIDS is not a “gay disease” … that counts for something, right? Right?!

    • Gemgirl

      OMGosh! That cartoon is beyond insane. I let my husband read it and he was familiar with Chick publications cartoons……they were in his public school library as a kid! He said he eventually realized the info. was entirely off the wall.

  • Jolie

    I swear if any fundie will ever ask me what the only 100% sure contraeptive method is, I’m soooooo going to say “lesbianism” with a straight face.

    • lucifermourning

      to be fair, contraception should be effective for men too.

      i’d go with “homosexuality”.

  • sara

    I think it would be more fair to find a way to use the number of people claiming to be abstinent, rather than the number who promised the grown ups they would be. I think you would still find they typical use number to be far from perfect use, but probably not as extreme as these figures because a lot of those pledges are made by people with no intention of following them, or little understanding of what they are pledging.

    • Jolie

      On the other hand, you would need to somehow exclude from the sample

      those who are asexual and those who are at the moment single and are unlikely to engage in casual hookups, but who would at least consider having sex (with or without contraception) with a suitable partner, in order to somehow tell between those who “practice abstinence” and those who just don’t have sex at the moment.

  • SarahD

    Abstinence is not celibacy… You seem to be confusing the two. Natural birth control or NFP advocates abstinence (short period of time) during the time of fertility in your cycle.

    • Anat

      Abstinence can be periodic as in NFP or lasting as in celibacy. The people making abstinence vows are not promising to practice NFP they are promising to be celibate until marriage.


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